Eisenberg: Jimmy Smith is Worth the Risk


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I say he's worth the risk because of his potential to alter the Ravens' defense immediately and serve as a kind of "refresh" button for them in their rivalry with the Steelers. They haven't been able to rely on a big, fast, shutdown-caliber cornerback since Chris McAlister was in his prime.

"If they want me to focus on a receiver, I can lock someone up," Smith told reporters late Thursday night.

Earlier this week on this site, I wrote that the Ravens needed to draft players who could have an immediate impact. Smith is certainly that. He has the potential to join the team's list of late-first round picks who have niftily overachieved -- way beyond their draft slot in some cases. (The list is led by Ray Lewis, Todd Heap, Ed Reed, and Michael Oher.)

But then there is the major issue of that negative off-field history and whether it will come back to haunt the Ravens. Be prepared, the fact that the Ravens are taking such a risk likely will lower their 2011 grade in the eyes of many draft experts. Smith's list of transgressions was lengthy enough to scare off quite a few teams.

But even just a brief drill-deep study of that off-field history reveals why Smith, 22, was such a good risk-reward play.

Did you know he hasn't had an off-field problem in more than two years? Did you know he is a college grad with a sociology degree?

As he joins the Ravens, Smith fits the profile of a young man who grew up in difficult circumstances (outside Los Angeles in his case) and made plenty of bad decisions as a teenager but figured out somewhere along the line that he needed to grow up, clean up and get going in the right direction. And that's what he did.

Once I knew these details, I didn't blame the Ravens at all for taking a shot on him. Frankly, I wondered if all those other teams that were so afraid of him had done the same homework. You would think they did, but maybe they just fell for the popular rationale, the "groupthink." There's a reason why the Ravens are better at the draft than a lot of teams.

The convenient narrative in the eyes of many football insiders and draft experts is that Reed and Ray Lewis will take Smith under their wings, keep him out of trouble and and, well, show him the way. That, I'm not really buying. Lewis brings enormous things to the table as a mentor, but with all due respect, he probably shouldn't be in charge of showing someone how to stay out of trouble as a young man.

Reed and Lewis can certainly help tutor Smith in the nuances of what it takes to be a winning pro – obsessive film study, over-the-top conditioning, staying on task, etc. And if Smith is the kind of person the Ravens think he is, he won't want to disappoint the future Hall of Famers with whom he now shares a huddle. That fear, more than anything, is what might keep him out of trouble.

But make no mistake, Smith will be on his own when he is off the field and in circumstances that could ultimately lead to trouble. When it's late, or when he is alone, he alone will be in charge of his fate – determining whether the Ravens were smart to gamble on him.

There's no telling how that will work out. But I like the Ravens' chances.

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